The now-16-year-old girl who said she was repeatedly molested by a Lawrence man spoke in court Tuesday, the first day of testimony in the man’s criminal trial.
The alleged victim’s testimony — in person and in recorded statements she made in 2015, before the man was charged — lasted much of the day in the courtroom of Douglas County District Court Judge Peggy Kittel.
James M. Fletcher, 35, faces five counts of aggravated indecent liberties with a child under 14, felonies that, if he is convicted, could result in multiple life sentences, according to court documents. He was charged with one count in September 2015, and four more counts in May 2016.
Fletcher allegedly molested the girl from December 2012, when the victim was 11, through January 2015, when she was 13, according to the charges.
The girl, a family member of the accused, told the jury on Tuesday that numerous times when she stayed at Fletcher’s house over the course of more than two years, he fondled her breasts under her shirt at night. She said sometimes she was awoken by the action but that she pretended to be asleep, and that afterward she felt “scared.”
“I was confused,” she said, “...because at the time I didn’t understand what he was doing or why.”
The girl said no one else saw the molestation and that she never told anyone until February 2015, after a confrontation between the man and her mother.
On Feb. 9, 2015 — before the then-13-year-old girl was ever interviewed by police — her mother conducted her own interrogation of her daughter and audio-recorded it, with a woman described as their family counselor also present.
In that conversation, played for the jury, the mother said Fletcher came to her house that day and told her he had a sexual attraction to young girls. The mother said Fletcher told her other things that caused her to believe something happened with the girl.
In the recorded conversation, the mother asks her daughter if Fletcher ever did anything that made her feel uncomfortable, and repeatedly urges her to “be honest” and “tell me all of it.” The girl cries intermittently throughout the conversation, and when she asks her mother why she is recording the conversation if she’s going to have to talk to police later anyway, the mother says, “because I’m smart.”
The girl said she’d had dreams of Fletcher touching her in the night, but that she thought they were just dreams.
In the following days, during an interview conducted for police by a professional social worker, the girl said, crying, “I was always pretty sure they weren’t dreams, but I passed them off as dreams to give myself a reason to not have to tell anybody.”
In court Tuesday, the girl said the abuse did happen and reiterated that she initially “pretended” it was a dream because it was hard for her to talk about and she feared repercussions it might have on other family members.
“I finally got over it with myself,” she said, responding to questioning from prosecutor Mark Simpson.
According to a 2015 affidavit prepared by police in support of Fletcher’s arrest, Fletcher’s phone contained photos of the girl with her underwear exposed, but he told police that he did not think they were sexual.
Fletcher told police he “was attracted to teenage girls” and might have “a problem,” the affidavit said. He admitted to touching the girl but denied it was inappropriate, telling police “I haven’t done anything, nothing’s happened.”
In pretrial motions filed in court, Fletcher’s defense attorney, Sarah Swain, argued that the girl had given differing accounts of the stated abuse, there were no eyewitnesses, no DNA evidence, Fletcher’s cell phone was obtained by police through an “illegal seizure” and that Fletcher’s statements may have been coerced. Swain also argued in pretrial motions that the girl’s “tumultuous upbringing” and other obstacles merited a psychological evaluation.
In court on Tuesday, Swain cross-examined the girl, questioning her memory of the days she first talked about the alleged abuse as well as the credibility and motives of her mother. Swain asked the girl if she was aware that, in the weeks preceding the police report, her mother had been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, to which the girl responded no.
Swain also questioned why the girl initially said the alleged encounters were dreams.
“I was not dreaming,” the girl said, adding that early on she was “still processing” the events. “I know that I knew that they weren’t (dreams), but I don’t think I could have said it out loud at that point.”
Fletcher's trial continues Wednesday.